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Disarray engulfs Russian light/medium transport aircraft plans

22nd February 2022 - 12:51 GMT | by Alex Orlov in Riga


Mi-26 heavy-lift transport helicopter. (Photo: Russian MoD)

Russian plans to field new light military transport aircraft are already in disarray after the crash of the prototype Il-112V in August 2021, and now even a stopgap measure to use Mi-26 helicopters may be stymied by Moscow’s aggression towards Ukraine.

The Russian MoD wants to usе Mi-26 heavy-lift transport helicopters as a temporary substitute for the problematic Ilyushin Il-112V fixed-wing aircraft, as confirmed most recently in December 2021 by Andrey Yelchaninov, first deputy chairman of the board of the Russian Military-Industrial Commission (MIC).

Russia would either procure more new Mi-26s (to the upgraded Mi-26TV2 standard) or use its existing fleet more intensively. 

Shephard Defence Insight notes that the Russian Aerospace Forces are expected to procure around 20 Mi-26s to the latest standard by 2025 as part of the country's helicopter rearmament programme.

A total of 44 Mi-26s remain in service today but they are fast approaching obsolescence, so it would make sense for the MoD to procure new airframes from Russian Helicopters.

Even if such a decision is viable in the short term, a new problem may emerge. Increasing new-build Mi-26 production or making more intensive use of the in-service helicopters would inevitably require more engines. 

In the second scenario, the existing fleet would require more repair and maintenance and possibly retrofits with new engines.

The problem here is that Mi-26-family helicopters are powered with two D-136 or D-136 Series 1 turboshaft engines. These were developed during the Soviet era but are now produced by Ukrainian manufacturer Motor Sich. Given the ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, it would be near-impossible to procure the engines.

Defence Insight

SupplierRussian Helicopters (Rostvertol)
Unit Cost ($US)25,000,000
First Delivery1983
StatusIn production
Length 40m
Width 6.15m
Height 8.15m
Rotor Diameter32m
Empty Weight28,600kg
Max Load 20,000kg (on sling)
Max Speed160kt
Service Ceiling15,000ft

This data has been verified by the same team that brings you Defence Insight. Want to learn more?

The Il-112V programme offers no succour, with delays likely amid an investigation of the prototype crash in August 2021. The manufacturer Ilyushin is working on two more prototypes, and the MIC expects to see the first flight of a modified aircraft in 2022, but the timeframe for the programme remains cloudy at best.

Yelchaninov admitted that the Il-112V ‘will face an enormous amount of modifications, including redesigning of some elements, engine and airframe’.

The current issues around light transport aircraft capabilities reflect the muddled planning that affects time-sensitive procurement programmes in Russia, exacerbated by an absence of contingency planning by the Russian military-industrial complex.

As a result, the MoD faces a light and medium airlift capability gap by the mid-2020s. There is a faint possibility that Moscow would look abroad for a solution, with the most viable option being China with the Xian Y-7 light transport aircraft and Shaanxi Y-8 or Y-9 medium airlifters.

Alex Orlov


Alex Orlov

Alex Orlov is a freelance journalist based in Helsinki.

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